Wednesday, March 31, 2010

a peaceful ending...

It seemed as if my state of mind controlled the weather.

I’m not sure if my mood mirrored what was happening outside, or it was the other way around. Frost covered the greening lawn. The crocus peeking their purple heads through the white crusted ground. The promise of spring held in a frosty standstill.

Dense fog rolled in off the lake making visibility difficult this early in the morning. It was trash collection day in my neighborhood and in my heavy pre-cold, gunk filled head, I had forgotten to take out our containers the night before. Those guys come early, so I didn’t bother to shower or change before lugging all the waste to the tree lawn.

No one was out this early. There weren’t even any cars heading off to work yet. I was relieved that under the cover of darkness no one could see my heavy eyelids from a night of restless slumber. Too many things on my mind to allow me to sleep. Properly.

I tossed. I turned. I couldn’t get comfortable.

My elbow was throbbing. I know I should go see a specialist, but have been putting it off. The pain of the tendonitis at times unbearable. It hurts. How did I manage to strain it so badly? Everything I read tells me to let it heal by resting. Sure thing. No problem. I’ll just not use my arm for 6 weeks…as if.

I turn to my right side to maybe give the left a stretch, some relief from this discomfort. In the darkness my eyes can see the familiar photos of my family on the bureau beneath the west window. The large portrait of all four of us when I was but two. A snapshot photo of my parents on their wedding day as they exited the sanctuary. A studio photograph of my brother and I; big, laughing smiles with our backs to each other, arms crossed captured for all time. I was very pregnant in this photo and gave birth to my daughter three weeks later. There’s the solemn sepia photo of my maternal grandparents. One of my brother and my mom I took a few years back up at his house on the lake. And my favorite; both of my parents and my daughter holding Dad's prize tomatoes in front of their home just months before my mothers first stroke.

I have next to them a framed copy of ‘A Mother’s Love‘ that we had displayed with the photos set around for my mom’s funeral calling hours.

She never failed to do her best, her heart was true and tender;
She toiled hard for those she loved, and left them to remember.
A loving mother, kind and true, her equals on this earth are few;
A happy life, a peaceful end, she died as she lived; everybody’s friend.
If we had this world to give, we would give it and more;
To see our darling Mother, come smiling through the door.
Those who have a mother, should tend her with care;
For you never know her value, 'till you see her vacant chair.

The moon was almost full and spread a soft light into my bedroom. There were cirrus clouds wisping over a portion giving the low, full moon an eerie appearance. Through the wavy glass of my century home windows it had both a calming and unsettling effect.

I could lay to the left and see the moon, or to the right and see the photos, the mementoes and makeshift shrine to my mom I’ve unconsciously created in my bedroom. No win situation there. There wasn’t anything to do but have a soft cry.

I miss my mom.

Easter was her favorite holiday. I always bought her a corsage. We would go into church for Easter Sunday and my mother would look so proud to have her family with her. Her head held high, color on her cheeks, she would greet her friends and introduce us to each, although we’ve known them for years.

“Lucille! You look lovely! You know Nancy and Charles, and my granddaughter…don’t you?”, she say, gently pushing us forward into the line of pinching.

“Oh, why yes.”, Mrs. Shurtz responded. “How beautiful. And big!” she’d say as she reached for my daughters cheek.

We’ve known Mrs. Shurtz for years. She is the epitome of classic lady. Matching handbag and high heel shoes, proper dresses straight from the 1950’s. Always the right amount of jewelry; a brooch, a necklace and some ear fobs. On Easter she’d even wear gloves and a hat. And if my memory serves, she even had cat shaped silver eyeglasses, flowers etched on the temples.

Yes. We knew the Shurtzs, and the Meekers, and the Mauers and Andersens. But this was a ritual that my mother enjoyed, and so we let her introduce us once again to all those she knew. This was her moment, her time. And I would smile politely and make small talk and shake hands.

And my mother would glow.

Easter is coming rapidly upon us and it will be the first one without my mom. Her birthday is just 5 days later. I suppose this is why I’ve been in a bit of a ‘funk’, as my ex used to say. I waiver between gratitude and remorse. What should I do? How should I go about honoring my mothers seemingly short existence on this earth?

My brother and I have talked about it. Our family is getting together for Easter, but we both don’t feel quite ‘right’ about attending Moms church this Sunday. Part of me feels as if we should be there…and part of me thinks that I should perhaps find a new ritual to follow. I don’t know if the congregation would understand my crying when they sing the Hallelujah chorus. Nothing like a well known visitor wailing between stanzas.

Did my mom know how much she meant to me? Did I tell her I loved her enough?

The fog stayed all day. The sun only broke through once. What was supposed to be a lovely afternoon by the weatherman’s predictions, turned out to be cold, foggy and damp. One of those days that chilled you to the bone. One that crawled under your skin and you couldn’t shake no matter how many pairs of socks you put on.

I went to bed early. I took some cold medicine and hoped that I could rest. Shut down my brain for a bit and recharge. I silently talked to my mom. Asked for her help. And fell asleep.

This morning the sun woke me up.
And I feel better.

Did I bring on that foggy chilled front with my thoughts? Or did my thoughts reflect the fog. A question of which I may never know the answer. But thanks Mom for making the sun shine for me today. I know I’m still going to be smeeshy as the holiday approaches. Because I cried writing this.

And once again while proof reading it.
I think I need to get some waterproof mascara.

I love you Mom. XXXOOO


Sunday, March 28, 2010

some are good and some are...

I have the utmost respect for the teaching profession.

I feel that teachers should be at the top of the economic pay scale. It is my opinion that their monitary compansation should exceed that of sports figures, actors, lawyers or even doctors.These are the people in charge of directing the future. Our kids are the future. And our teachers are developing the minds of tomorrow.

My mother was a teacher. For 45 years.

She loved her job. And her 'kids' adored her in return. She took her profession seriously. She was an instrument of change for many of her students. She cared. She cared about the future of these kids. She cared enough to follow through with each and every student to make sure they had the tools available to succeed. And when they did, that was her reward. She felt proud.

There are good teachers, like my mom, and there are...well, not so good teachers.

I normally don't bitch....much. Or at least I try not to. I'm a tolerant person and don't get ruffled too easily. I accept quite a bit before going postal. But I'm pushed to my limit when it comes to ignorance. All ignorance. But especially when the ignorant person is one educating my child.

My daughter has been very fortunate thus far to have what is adding up to an excellent education. She went through the Montessori program from pre-primary through third grade, which I loved. Last year we switched schools to a more traditional form of education.

We enrolled in a Catholic School.

For the most part, this school has been great. It's in close proximity to our home and has come highly recommended. The majority of teachers are on par with my mom. A few might even be better, if that's possible. Her teacher in 4th grade was one of those. She was trained Montessori, so my daughters transition from 'feel good, warm fuzzy' Montessori to a 'desk and uniform' school was easy. During one of the teacher/parent conferences she said, "Your daughter gets it. Many of these other children just look at me. They don't want to know how to get to the answer, they just want the answer to memorize so they can score well on the test."

The school is signed up with Edline, an online site that keeps the parents informed of their childrens scores and progress. Many of the teachers don't always keep the information current with assignments and such, so I got out of the habit of checking it on a regular basis. I trusted that if anything were amiss, I'd be informed.

The school has a homework policy that if a student misses two assignments in one week, you are required to attend 'homework lab'. It's a detention of sorts. We lovingly call it 'the hoozegow'. Boo has recieved a couple of homework labs. For stupid mistakes like forgetting to bring her textbook to class. I asked "Why?", just carry it with you. "But it's SO HEAVY...." she whined.

But rules is rules and off to the hoozegow you go. For four days. For each offense. Omitting Fridays, of course. No teacher wants to stay after school on a Friday.

The hoozegow actually had my vote. Instead of coming home with a couple hours of homework, she got it completed at school. I like it. It frees me from having to hover making sure her work's done. She likes it as well, sort of. Since she was focused and got her work done at school, it allows her to be able to play with friends or watch TV until dinner instead of sitting at the table with me helicoptering above.

I thought it time to check Edline the other day. I hadn't been on in awhile and I knew that Science has been a challenge this year. The teacher is a challenge. She gives time consuming projects and grades hard. Bear works deligently on them, but two in a row have resulted in not so great scores. I was pleased that she aced the last one. I have an idea that Boo's never going to be a scientist, she's far too right brain. I see the effort she puts in to her work, so I'm not too bent out of shape about her overall score. A recent project handed in required them to make a model  made up 'creature'along with a paper describing it. Its environment, its symbiotic relationships, its predators, etc. It was to be written in a letter form like one you'd write to a friend. I thought she did a great job. I looked over the checklist and she touched on each point that was to be addressed.

She got a D-.

Even with the subpar grade the teacher attached a note asking, "I love it! May I keep your creature?"
Um. "Well sure.", I thought," Perhaps you can give her another ten points on her score and then you can keep it." 

I scrolled down through Bear's classes and learned that she was failing math.

What? Failing? No possible way. Fractions and decimals are the fare du jour. She understands them quite well. Her test scores have been high. Her homework scores, however, are not.

I saw a missing assignment that received 0 points of a possible 100. And then about a week later another 0 of 100. Followed by another one, and another and another and another. 700 total points were completely missing from her grade.

My knee jerk reaction? "Boo! What the *%#@!!" But of course, as a good mom, I didn't say that...exactly. What I did say was, "Boo? Is this right?"

"Is what right Mommy?"

"This score. Is this right? Where's the Simple Solution problem score?"

"Which?", she replied. "Oh that. I didn't get it, plus I didn't have to do it."

Homework assignments not given or that don't have to be done sounds eerily similar to 'the dog ate my homework'. 

Our school has the children in 5th grade changing classes every period. They have hall lockers like in high school where they store their books. And like in high school it is their responsibility to make sure to bring all materials needed to each class. They have 3 minutes between classes. This has been the source of some of our hoozegow issues. Bear will show up minus a book, or a workbook. Remember, we are talking about 10 and 11 year olds.

One of my friends daughter doesn't use her locker for anything except her coat. She carries everything in her backpack. Everything. She is too afraid to not have the materials needed at any given time, so it stays with her. Not an entirely bad idea, per se, except that her backpack now weighs 45 pounds. Lucy only weighs 82 pounds. Her grandfather even picked it up to move while visiting and said, "What's this? Her backpack? I was in WWII and our knappsacks didn't weigh this much!"

This has been a point of heated conversation when us moms get together for coffee. We are searching for a solution. Not only do I see a future with our kids having serious back problems, but instead of teaching them responsibility, I believe it is teaching them anxiety. They will have enough of that as they get older. I thought of rolling backpacks, but the school does not allow them.

So why exactly is Bear missing the same assignment week after week? While pondering this I start to get a little angry. At what point does her teacher, when imputing zeros instead of any other score, contact the parent? Or the student about the missing assignments!?

How long does a teacher let a 5th grader continue down the path of failing without making some sort of attempt to correct it? What kind of pleasure is she getting from failing a child?

It's not like I'm unavailable. It's pretty easy to reach me. We filled out forms with every possible forms of contact at the beginning of the school year. From cell phone, to house phone, to e-mail. Even twitter. You want to get word to me? NO problem. Heck. Why not go the old fashioned way and just send a note home.


I sent an e-mail to the teacher. It wan't was actually very nice. A 'what can we do about this- there seems to be a breakdown- may I have the problems assigned so she can do the work whether she gets credit for it or not' e-mail.

One day.
Two days.
Three days.
Nothing. No response.

So I called the principal. She was flabergasted. "We don't run things this way here. I'll get to the bottom of it." 12 days later, we had a meeting. All of Boo's teachers showed up to the conference room.
And yes, we got to the bottom of it.

Surprisingly, the math teacher pushed over an ammended update from her gradebook. She removed all of the missing scores which then gave my daughter a pretty good grade. She went from failing to an A-. I didn't ask her to do it. She did it on her own. Me thinks that she realized she dropped the ball. You don't, as a teacher, not address a glaring problem that has been happening since January.

It was at this meeting that over two weeks since my inquiry did I finally get the missing assignments I'd asked for. It turns out that the missing assignments are work that Boo has done already. They do a page of Simple Solutions math each evening. Some weeks the teacher assigns 5 problems from the Simple Solutions book that some students got wrong or had questions about. They are to do this assignment on a separate peice of paper, show the question, the answer and the work how they got the answer.

I went back and looked through her book and corresponding problems assigned. Bear had completed each the first time successfully. She was confused and thought since her first answers were correct, that she didn't have to complete this assignment. It would be redundant. Her deduction came from instructions given for test scores. In this same class you are allowed to complete incorrect answers from a test and hand it in for extra credit. But ONLY if you scored less than 74%...otherwise you can't turn it in. It's not accepted as credited work. So since hers were correct, the first time, she didn't do them. And in turn got zeros.


Prior to this conference, I'd never met her math teacher. The last set of teacher conferences they sent word that there was no reason for her father or I to attend. There was nothing to discuss. It was all bubbles and unicorns. And no offense to this particular teacher, but during the meeting she never looked me in the eye. Her gaze was always over to the left. Or over my shoulder. Never in the eye.

Plus she fidgeted.

She's young. She's doesn't have children. She's unmarried. She probably just doesn't understand or have the experience. It's okay. At least now I know what to expect. And what to look for.

I had a teacher in high school that I thought had it out for me.

Miss Steel was my trigonometry teacher. I had her junior year in 5th period. 5th period was split in to 4 sections. 5a, 5b, 5c, and 5d. I had trig 5a, lunch 5b and c, and then back to class 5d. Ineveitably, I would be coming down the hall, steps away from the classroom door when the bell would ring. Miss Steel would deliberately slowly close the door just as I got there.

And wouldn't let me in.

I would stand there defiantly in the hall, looking into the classroom until the hall monitor made me leave...but I hated Miss Steel for this.

Even so, I got an A.

I asked her at the end of the year, "Why do you hate me so?"

"I don't hate you, Nancy. I just expect more from you."

And so it goes.

Boos' teacher knowing she can do the work, expects more from her.
And more she is going to get.

She is Boo's Miss Steel. Boo will have her as her math teacher next year as well, so we're on track with her expectations now.

But a phone call would've been nice. Or a note. Or an e-mail. Or a tweet.

I'd have loved to be a fly in the principals office when she called the math teacher in to explain where the communication breakdown was with Bear. That would have the makings of a classic priceless Master Card commercial.

Problem solved.
I've learned. I check Edline everyday.
Boo's learned. She double checks every assignment now.
And I'm sure that the math teacher has learned something as well. Hopefully.

Now, onto the next predicament. What's up with these backpacks....


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

old cars live on...

The Internet is a wondrous place. You can pay your bills, order a new pair of shoes, find the latest news clips, watch favorite TV shows and order Chinese food without ever leaving your chair.

Plus with all the search engines you can customize your browsing experience to fit your wants and needs.

My morning routine wakes me earlier than the rest of the house. I let out the dogs, feed the cat, make some coffee and then sit down to my computers and check out what happened overnight whilst I slept. I use Yahoo as a browser. I've tried some others, but revert back to what I like and know best. On My Yahoo page I've got all the information right there on one page that catches me up on what I want to catch up on. Leaving out some of the stuff I'm not so interested in.

The other morning as I scrolled down to read more about the damn health bill, a second volcano erupting in Iceland, Google withdrawing from China, grave robbers stealing the Archbishops remains and Jesse James erratic driving to lose the paparazzi; I finally get to some of the interesting 'fluff stuff' I've requested as well.

I like to see what the BBC and the New York Times have to say. Not that those items are 'fluff', but I like reading their views on the news. I like to see the mug shots posted on Smoking Gun and weird/odd news bites, the word of the day and the 'How To' of the Day. It's the last one that had me rubbing mine eyes to see if I read the headline correctly.

Ummmm. Really? Really?

I understand Retro. I get it that people are attracted to kitsch. Perhaps the people at Wiki found this to be a little tongue in cheek? Make a few people laugh this morning? Exactly how does this pertain to the majority of the readers. There can't be more than a handful of the Michigan rust buckets left are there?

So I did a search to see. Presently there are only fourteen 1997 Buick Skylarks being sold nationwide. There are approximately only 100 or so still around. And lucky you, you can buy one today for less than $1000! And if you do, you will now, by reading this article complete with pictures, be able to change the serpentine belt. That will save you a bunch.

I appreciate old cars. Growing up I drove several. I used to own a Fiat Sport Spider that I would inevitably run out of gas because the gas gauge no longer worked. To replace it, I'd have to have the gas tank dropped, opened and then resealed. A rather pricey venture for a 16 year old. So instead I carried around a Bell Jar borrowed from my mothers canning supplies filled with gasoline. Whenever the engine would start to sputter, I'd pull over, dump some gas into the carburetor and it'd get me to the nearest gas problems. Much more pocket cash friendly as well.

I bought a new car my senior year in high school and donated my Fiat to the school. It had become the school mascot. You know the spirit rocks many schools have out in front? My car had been in need of paint, so one day before a football game we spray painted it. And subsequently every game after that when I'd go out to the parking lot, my car would have something new painted on it. It was fun. Graffiti at it's best.

My new car wasn't new, but new to me. A Datsun 1970 240Z. Orange with black headlamps. It was hot. Or at least I thought so. I drove that all the way through college. What then was an old car, turned into a classic car. I ended up selling it for more than I originally paid for it. Life is good.

That car saw some interesting life experiences. Isiah Thomas used to borrow it when I attended Indiana University. He was a freshman as well, but had no car. The girl who lived next door to me was a friend of his, so they'd borrow my car. I'd get tickets to the games and he'd fill it up with gas. He'd always forget to pull the drivers seat forward though. I'd get in and feel like a little kid trying to reach the pedals.

I used to get speeding tickets in that car. It was fast, but many times it wasn't my fault. I really wasn't speeding. Due to it's color, it had higher visibility than other cars. So if a police officer clocked someone over the speed limit, they just assumed it was me. I fought it in court several times. And won, thank you very much. But it was a hassle just the same.

But the cars speed did get me into racing. I used to race it on the weekends up at GingerMan Raceway in Michigan. They have time trial courses, so only one car is allowed on the track at one time. My parents were opposed to the entire racing thing, but if I wasn't in any immediate danger of crashing into other cars, or they into me...well, they tolerated my insistance to drive.


I was dating a guy at the time whose family was into racing, all kinds of racing. On one date he took me up to the track and I just somehow got involved with it myself. It was loads of fun. And I was good at it. I had a feel for the car and a knack for the course. I even won a little prize money for my efforts. But he turned out to be not as fun as the that ended my career as a race car driver.

My daughter loves old cars as well. On one visit up to my brothers home in Michigan we visited the Woodward Dream Cruise. One weekend a year all the old cars come out to cruise the boulevard. It's quite a sight indeed. A vertible feast for the old car lovers eyes. Parking lots full of every year of Corvette, sidewalks lined with hot rods and classic cars. Monster trucks and cutome built cars...even people on chasis turned into bicycles. If it has wheels, it's on the boulevard. There are food booths set up selling their wares and people just hanging out with coolers sitting on the lawn chairs clapping for the people driving by.

There are the pristine old school cars. And then there are the cars and trucks there just for the party. Like the Hum-V complete with hot tub deck off the back, it's passengers lounging in the water, drinking margaritas as they cruise Woodward.

Believe me, it is a sight to behold. People watching at it's best. It's happening this year on August 21st if you care to go. It's fun. Just bring lots of water and some good walking shoes. Oh, and we brought number cards last year to rate the cars as they passed. That rewarded us with quite a few 'honks' from the Ah-Oooh-Ga horns.

My daughter has informed me that she'd like a 1953 Ford F-150. "Cherry red, please." , when she is able to drive. Who would've known? But then, she digs the old 1923 Royal 10 typewriter I brought home from my parents house. She seems to spend more time pecking away at that than playing on the Wii.

I would imagine changing the serpentine belt on the Ford may be similar to that of the Buick. I may just print out that kitsch-y little article after all. You just never know. I may actually need this information sometime in the future.

And now I wonder what the 'How to' is today? I haven't checked all the news yet.

Oh...'How to Make Hardtack'. Yummy. Now that's just what I need, the knowledge how to make dried up, grub filled Civil War crackers.

Thanks to Yahoo and life is complete.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010


As an American Irishman, or Irishwoman, I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to wish my friends a Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I'm sure for the International readers, they must scoff at this Holiest of Holy days that we celebrate here in the U, S, of A. But we take our wearing of the green quite seriously. So much so, that even my daughters school is closed for the day.

It's a big deal for us. We plan for this day weeks, if not months, in advance. New green garb is chosen and embroidered, laid out and ready to jump into early on the day.

Christmas has traditionally the busiest of all calender holidays for scheduling. Traveling from one house to another to make sure to stop at each relatives open house and wish them good cheer. Overeating and being over served at each stop. Saint Patrick's day of late has challenged that Numero Uno spot. Or Uimhir a Haon. It now starts early in the day with breakfasts of soda bread and green eggs to late in the evening when the last morsel of corned beef has disappeared from the serving platter. Not to mention the Guinness is gone.

The greatest challenge is to pace the beverage and food consumption. Each stop plying you with yet another sandwich, another bowl of stew, another plate of pickled beef. And more drinks to wash it all down with. Go figure.

It's like training for a marathon. An enjoyable marathon, but some years just about as taxing.

Many years ago I remember a Saint Patrick's Day when already having had more than our fill downtown at the parade, we stopped at several watering holes along the way back to our home. We couldn't help it. With their doors open wide to the spring air, the sounds of merriment spilling into the street drawing you in like a moth to flame. Or a horse to water. Or a Irishman to beer. I was a newlywed this particular year complete with a new Irish last name. I met one of my husbands acquaintances who also had the same surname as my newly own.

As you can imagine by this point in the days festivities, everyone was quite jovial. A few more than others. Johnny was (and still is!) a delightful man. He's a gentleman that gives the saying, 'a glint in his eye' meaning. We were having a grand old time, singing along to the band when Johnny leaned in close and told me, "Darlin'...divorce him and marry me. You'll not have to even change the spelling on your drivers license."

He also shared with me that day that being the true Irishman he was, he said, "I may not be big (as in well endowed) so I can't go deep, but I sure can beat the hell out of the sides."

We've been friends ever since.

Anyone that can share intimate details not highlighting their best features, even if they've overindulged on the day o' drink, is alright with me.

Our Saint Patrick's Days lately have been a little more family oriented. But even so, we have a great time. I'll leave the pursuit of being over served to those that don't have the burden of responsibilities like I do. I've learned that I'm grown up enough to know 'when is when'. My head and body just don't bounce back as fast or easily as it used to. And although I'm in denial of nearing middle age, I don't need to add any more stress than I already endure to my aging frame.

I still might tip one or two out of tradition. A friend just dropped off a wonderful smelling soda bread and I'm slicing the corned beef. The Harp is in the fridge and the lilt of Irish music is playing on my speakers. The sun is shining and it's a chilly but gorgeous day up here on the North Coast. The parade was nice, my nap even better and now it's off to the next installment of green day fun.

I raise my glass to you!


...or Cheers in english speak. Happy Saint Patrick's Day, my friends!

And please. No more cabbage for me. I think that hurts me worse than the Guinness.


Footnote: The day was survived with fun had by all! And the pot of gold for me was that I needed no aspirin this morning. Bhi go hiontach! (It was great!)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

add on another...

I'm a little sore today. No, no...I'm okay. It's not my mental state, it's my muscles.

Specifically those attached to shoulder blades.

Back in September, I introduced you to Julie, the masseuse who managed to beat me to a pulp with her deep tissue massage. Well, I found another gal who is smaller. And stronger. And although she was gentle and I didn't hurt at the time...I awoke this morning feeling as though my shoulders were those of a linebackers. After a hard TwoaDay practice on the blocking dummies.

Yesterday we celebrated.

It was a wonderful friends birthday. Not just any birthday, but her 40th. A big number in the world of women. So a few of us planned her a little surprise.

Getting her husband involved, we planned to swing by early morning unbenounced to whisk her away for a day of beauty. At least we thought we were sly, but dear Melissa is a smart one, so she probably had it figured out ahead of time and just allowed us to believe we had pulled this off. Eileen spearheaded this effort with Christine, Kathy, Gretchen, Ellen, Leslie and myself all jumping onboard to partake in the festivities.

One complete day spent lounging in plush white terry robes in a darkened room with comfy couches and chaise lounges with attendants coming to escort us to various rooms of spa wonder. All interspersed with glasses of mineral water and champagne.

Spa West in Westlake, Ohio is a place that I've never been to before. I'd heard of it, I'd seen advertisements and I've even driven by the facility, but I'd never been a client.

I may never, when treating myself, go anywhere else ever again.

We started our treatment day at 8:45am. Standing in the lobby of the spa, we gave the hostess our names and instantly our coats were exchanged for mugs of coffee or glasses of sparkling water. Once we were all accounted for they opened the magnificent carved wooden door that led to the inner sanctum of the treatment area.

At first sight I thought it was an infinity hallway. All tricked out with mirrors to give the illusion of never ending linear walls. But no, the hallway actually was made up of door after door after door of treatment rooms. Along the walls were recessed cubicles highlighting rich oil paintings framed in opulent gold scroll. Amber glass chandeliers every six feet dimly lighting the warm Italian adesia slate flooring.

The effect was instantly relaxing. Like in a dream, it was one of ambiotic bliss.

Traditionally on someone elses birthday you give a gift. You normally don't partake in said gift. But Eileen said that this day was a day 'for the girls'. As she so eloquently put it when making the arrangements for this extravagant spa day, "We all deserve a day off, damn-it."

God Bless you, Eileen.
You are truly a genius.

Yanna was a little Russian girl, slight in stature with a mild, soft voice. She had the slightest of accents. She came to our enclave and called out my name, "Naaannnnzzzy. Pleazzze. Follow me." We walked down the opulent, glowing hall and finally reached a room on the right. "Pleaze.", she gestured for me to enter, "Make yourself comfortable. I'll return in a moment."

This room was just as beautiful as the rest of the building I'd seen thus far. The waterfall faucet and vessel sink. The heavy channeled glass shower door and slate tiling. The amber chandelier. Even the upholstered chair in the corner for me to place my robe was gorgeous. My mind started tallying the cost of fixtures alone. Cha-ching. There was some major dosh put out building this place. They didn't cut costs, that's for sure.

Throughout my hour and half long relaxation massage (no more deep tissue for me, thank you very much) I learned much about this young lady. She has lived here for 13 years, her fiancee lives in Avon Lake, she's been engaged for just 3 months and is planning a trip back to Russia to visit family next summer. She grew up outside of Moscow and although she is visiting some family, she was wondering how to get away and actually do sightseeing as it's been so many years. She had been so young when she left, her memories of Russia are few. She has a dog, Maximilian, that is a two year old Golden Retriever that has a fondness for leather shoes. She doesn't eat fish but has a love for Thai food. Green is her favorite color. She only asks to do relaxation massages and likes to do them with a firm hand but prefers doing facials. She enjoys her work. Skin is fascinating to her. She also has a fish.

That's a lot of information to gather during a massage, isn't it. Now, do you also remember me telling you back in March of last year how people have this strange inclination to talk to me? One of the other ladies in our group also had Yanna as a masotherapist after me. She commented that she found it odd that the young lady hardly said a word.

Hmmm. Interesting. You might have thought the conversation distracting. But her banter didn't disrupt my relaxation process one bit. In actuality it made me feel a little more comfortable. I enjoy silence, but had I not heard the sound of her voice, I might have drowned in the unavoidable drool massages bring on. Or at least been embarrassed by it. Nothing like leaving a little pool of spit for your masseuse to clean up after you leave.

Little Yanna did a most excellent job working out the kinks of stress that has been building in my muscles. It felt and strangely sounded like popping bubble wrap as she worked out the pockets of tension. It really did feel heavenly. And when I returned to the ambiance of our waiting room, I felt like a linguine noodle cooked al dente.

More lounging followed between services in same room with champagne and finally with everyone reassembled we vacated the spa. Heading over to Crocker Park's Cheesecake factory we all had martini's, lunch and dessert. A stop at Sephora, the make-up haven for us product whores, and then onward for some enjoyable, but not needed, shoe shopping.

Let's recap:

  • Massages

  • Champagne

  • Martini's

  • Lunch

  • Cheesecake

  • Make-up

  • Shoe shopping

  • Girlfriends

  • Birthday gathering

What an absolutely perfect day.

By the time I made it home late that afternoon, packages in hand, muscles expertly kneaded, I would be hard pressed to recant a nicer way to spend a Saturday afternoon. There's just something about the bond of female companionship. Something special. Something sublime. That's probably the reason why so many books are written on the subject and so many movies made about it.

So Happy, happy 40th birthday, Dearest Melissa!
Thank you (although you really had no choice!) for allowing us all to join in the celebration of your birth. As we left our soiree yesterday afternoon, we pledged to make this a yearly event. Personally if that' the case, I can't wait until her 41st.

And truly, I mean that.
I can't wait.

I've already booked another appointment with Yanna.

You see...I didn't get the name of her fish.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

hiking with darwin...

This past weekend, I felt like Flanders.

The Flanders of Simpson's fame.
I was a 'nervous pervous' most of the weekend.

We went to Hocking Hills in Southern Ohio, the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains for a little getaway. It was supposed to be relaxing. And it was, for the most part...except for those times when we were hiking. Then, I was nervous.

My mind playing out worst case scenarios with each trepidatious landing of my foot.

If you've not been to the area, you should do yourself a favor and go. There are extensive hiking trails through some rugged territory that lead to amazing caves, cliffs and waterfalls. No need to travel to the ends of the earth. They are all here, right in O-H-I-O. And despite of the size of this relatively small park area, no matter how many times you visit the landscape changes and there is always something new to admire.

Hocking Hills National Park is made up of 6 named famous rock formations. The towering cliffs, deep gorges, waterfalls and caves all provide stunning beauty. The Blackhand sandstone bedrock was deposited here over 350 million years ago. There are markings of ancient Adena which resided in the area 7,000 years ago. It's a plethora of outdoor opportunities that beckons you to visit again and again.

We found a wonderful rustic, yet well appointed cabin just north of the State Park. What drew me to this particular beauty was their advertisement of the need for a 4WD vehicle if visiting when snow is on the ground. To me? That sounds wonderfully remote and heaven like.

Only 3 1/2 hours from home, driving into this rural area diverse with such incredible raw beauty makes it the perfect place to really getaway without the investment of too much travel time. As we approached our backroad destination in the dark, I invisibly clapped myself on the back for adding the Navigation System when I purchased my Commander. Without it we might still be driving around looking for a lone cabin in the Hills of Ohio.

Our hillside was silent.
And dark.
And perfect.

Nothing but us and the stars.

And the much appreciated hot tub and fireplace. I love a roaring wood burning fire. It's mesmerising. Especially in a rustic log cabin in the middle of the woods with no one within sight.

Always a planner, I'd read up and charted a route for the next mornings hike. Our destination: the 8 mile circle between Old Man's Cave, Cedar Falls and on to Ash Cave. It's a nice hike. A good distance, but not too overwhelming for Boo and the dogs. If you go too far, they lose interest. And energy. We'd done this same trail before in the spring and were looking forward to seeing the frozen waterfalls and their massive icicles in the winter off-season.

We couldn't have asked for better conditions. Sunny and cool, but warm enough for just a fleece. Decked in the proper trekking gear, we left the car and headed to start the lower gorge trail and return on the upper rim.

However my plan was immediately thwarted. The stairs heading down into Old Man's Cave were frozen. Solid.

A gal was huffing up with her dog and twanged, "There ain't no way yo'all make it down there. That dog's gonna pull ya."

At that moment I didn't know she had intended herself to go down that stairway, but was unsuccessful. Her statement wasn't a taunting 'your dog ain't gonna make it'; rather it was a 'there ain't no one going down there today...'

We didn't heed the warning.
We were fresh. We were ready. We wanted to go.

In actuality, I didn't take it as a warning. It sounded more like a 'that dog won't hunt', I thought she was returning from her own visit to the Devil's Bathtub and was dissing my anxious we did as my Grandpa would say, "don't pay her no never mind". So I didn't.

D led the way. I liked the idea of him forging the trail for us to warn of danger ahead. 1 step-2-3-4-5 steps and then Whoop! D took the rest all at once with Stuey sliding down with him. He looked up, brushed himself off and said, "You comin', or what?"

I'll choose the 'what'.
Wisely, I decided it might be best to start our hike minus a full slide down some mighty long, rough, frozen stairs that'll end up with a bruised backside. Plus I'd like to keep all my teeth exactly where they are, thank you very much. I knew there were other ways down into the cave. Let's just go find the one slightly less hazardous.

This national park is well visited with hundreds of thousands of people coming to see it's wonder each year. Surprisingly enough it is still rather wild and unmarred by humans. It's not a commercial park. They take the 'natural' seriously. So yes, there are a few stairways and rock bridges, but they are not salted or cleared. There are no railings. There are just warning signs.

WARNING: Ice danger
WARNING: Rock ledges
WARNING: Hazardous cliff

All above signs and maps noted with a picture of a little stick guy falling on his arse. Fitting.

With the caveat of 'Stay on the Trail' they really do mean 'STAY ON THE TRAIL'!
100 foot drops are common throughout the park land without so much of a 'Be Careful' sign or fence. All the trails at Hocking Hills are pet friendly except for one; which is a nature preserve.

I'm sure Boo was getting tired of me following her and repeatedly telling her, "Be careful. Stay on the fresh snow. Stay to the left. Watch that ledge. Be careful."

As I was walking (and pushing the images from my mind of a bruised and bloodied Boo, or myself, at the bottom of the gorge) I thought about a past golf lesson. My instructor had told me, "Don't look at the water. (or whatever hazard there was that was giving me immediate anxiety) If you look at the water, you'll go in the water. Pretend it's not there."

So I would. I'd pretend that enormous lake wasn't there. Low and behold, I got over my fear of hitting over water. And managed at the same time to stay out of it.

Now I desperately was trying to channel some of Paul's insight of hazards and not think about the death cliff edged in slippery ice. If i succeed, I might just make it out of Hocking Hills alive.

Our hike, which was quite enjoyable although somewhat hazardous at times, was rewarding and exhilarating. Physically and mentally. Towards the end we all had one thing in mind. "The sun is setting. It's getting colder. The snow will again start to freeze up after a days worth of rays. We need to get out of this gorge. Please God, let us make it up the stairs with all our teeth and limbs intact."

As I witnessed several times over during my hikes, seemingly God does protect the ignorant.

With our trek over, the parking lot in sight, a girl and her friends were heading down into the park at dusk. They were wearing Uggs. Classic Uggs. Not even the winter ones. No traction. No tread. I just spent the last 4 hours dealing with getting my family home safely. I thought, "I may be reading about them tomorrow. I hope I don't, but I just might..."

There are several deaths attributed to this park each year. It's usually blamed on people wandering off the marked path, getting into trouble on unstable ledges and plummeting to their doom. Many times, as in the case of young Jacob Walls, he lost his footing after a quick rain when he was trying to get a photo of the Old Man's cave. A shot for the photo album. One worth framing. The family at the base of the cave where young Walls fell could do nothing to save him. He was only 15.

Or Amy Adams, 22, who was 100 yards off trail and tried, unsuccessfully to jump a stream. She slipped and was swept off the precipice. Or even Peter Westoff, 23, who was an amateur adventurer who got separated from his group and fell 60ft into the deep gorge. It took 18 hours for park officials to remove his body.

Peter that was on my mind during my hike this morning. Because he had been hiking in February when the conditions were the same as they were today.

Any printed park material that you pick up states several times over" Because of it's wilderness character, the park can be hazardous if you stray from the designated trails. Be sure not to lean over rock ledges and keep young children restrained." Yet, people hang over rock ledges, stray from the trail and let their kids run amok.

We were at the top of Ash Cave and passed a family walking towards us. "Be careful. It's very icy up ahead.", I told them. Trust me, it was. Even with my caution, I slipped several times. Yet here was this family with a 6 year old and toddler running ahead of them. Cliff ledge 150 feet. No rail. Icy trail. Toddler. They nodded, smiled and did nothing to rear in their children running 30 yards in front of them.

Ummmm. Hello? Anybody home?

The Rim trail runs exactly that. Right. Along. The. Rim. One mistake and BAM! You are now one with the cave. Forever.

There was another guy that almost gave me heart failure as well. The small stream that feeds the waterfall you see from below has a rock bridge you can cross. For the untrained, or ignorant eye, it doesn't appear fatal. But it could be. Easily. The bridge is exactly 20 feet from the edge. And yet this guy and his excitable puppy walk right out to the lip! IN THE STREAM, no less!

Let's see.

  • Slick rock bottom stream. Check.
  • 40-50 degree weather with spring meltoff and hidden ice. Check.
  • Slick ice forming everywhere. Check.
  • Right above the Cave! Check.
  • Potential Darwinian award recipient. Check.
Prior to witnessing his ignorant bravado of "Hey! Come look at this!", I sat on a bench, leisurely enjoying my packed lunch. Soaking in the sunshine listening to the brook, the waterfall and the sound that spring brings in the woods, I was relaxed. Then I spied this group of ignoramus's approach the bridge and him take a beeline for the edge of the cliff with his dog in tow. One jerk of the leash could easily knock this guys footing right from under him.

"Either this guy, his dog, or both are going to fall. It's not going to be pretty."
I do not want to witness that.

It about ruined my day.
And Boo's.

I spent the remainder of our day riding her extra hard about her making sure of her footing. But this trail led us away from the cliff and into the lowlands. If you slipped, you just got your jeans wet and lost a little ego. But (hopefully) you weren't about to crack your skull or snap your spinal cord. I did get a hiking boot blow-out which made my feet slosh, but I can handle that. I wanted to buy some new treads anyway, so this was a perfect excuse to do so.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not encouraging the resurrection of handrails and fences in the park. I'm not even asking them to put up more signs. It is the hikers responsibility to educate themselves and have respect for their surroundings. Even if there were railings, you know you'd see the same mindless people standing on them.

If you are prepared and respect the potential danger of nature, then it's gorgeous. Everyone should experience it's beauty.

But be smart. KNOW your surroundings. Exercise caution. Err on the side of reserve with every matter what season you are visiting. In spring, it becomes wet. And moss and leaves can be a slippery as ice. Or buy some Get-A-Grips crampons to wear on your shoes. They help.

Just be smart.
I was. And it was wonderful.

I've got the frameable photos to prove it.
Darwin didn't get me. At least this time around...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

daily body smackdown...

I'm fed up.

I'm not fed. I'm just fed up.

I can't get away from news programs, advertisements, commercials, flyer's and event flyer's all telling me basically 'You're fat. And we can help you.'

I wouldn't mind losing a pound or two or, hell. Maybe twenty for extra measure. But if I do, it's because I want to. Not because I've been coerced or guilted into it.

Every single time I turn on the television there is Julian Michael's hawking her exercise regimen and diet supplements. Interestingly enough she is being sued for false advertising for the same weight loss supplement. Cashing in on her fame, she joined forces to sell worthless diet pills at $40 a pop. But the class action suit is for $5 million...Julian, put that in your weight belt and eat it.

What about Nutrisystem with Marie Osmond? Can her eyelashes get any faker or her hair any bigger? That's the rule with celebrity endorsed weight loss programs. Wear excessive makeup and big hair. Add to that stilleto heels and some horribly flashy garb and well, it makes the rest of you appear smaller. They really want me to believe that she eats their food to lose her extra weight?....Yeah, right. And she lives in a mansion on that swamp land I bought the last time I jumped on the '120 delicious foods' Nutrisystem bandwagon.

Or better yet, 'One Day at a Time' sister, Valerie Bertenelli, selling the Jenny Craig dream. That's all fine and good. But that commercial with the gal that just lost 5 pounds and wants to know if her mascara is waterproof because she's going to cry? They lost me there. It annoys the hell out of me. Really? 5 pounds? I understand that they are trying to make it 'let's not set our goals too high'... But c'mon. That commercial makes me want to boycott all things Jenny Craig.

Let's face it.
Losing weight isn't easy. It take diligence and hard work.


Back in 2001 I lost 43 pounds. I didn't need to. I didn't really want to. It just happened. I started losing weight and the next thing you know, none of my clothes fit. I was buying size 0. Yeah...I said that right. Z-E-R-O. And some of those didn't fit all that well. They were a little baggy. I'm 5'6". It wasn't pretty.

When I was 120lbs....I looked good. That there's my fightin' weight.
I could put anything on and look fabulous. But at 100lbs? No sir. I looked ill.

Granted, I was going through a divorce and I just couldn't eat. Seriously. I couldn't. The weight just fell off. And then slowly I stabilized. The antidepressants my doctor prescribed for me started putting the weight back on even without my eating. Then I didn't need those any more and I stayed the same for quite some time.

Like most women, I fluctuate with weight. There is a song by Lyle Lovett called "Good Intentions' croons "The temporary weight gain due to excess water retention...It's just a fact of life, that no one cares to mention." That's me.

I mean, he wasn't singing about me, but was singing about me.

Guys don't have to deal with that. Lucky bastards. So they don't quite understand what we go through. But lately for each 5 temporary pounds put on, I only lose 4 9/12. Doesn't sound like much, does it. But it the math. That's 2 pounds a year. I'm presently at a size that takes very little effort to maintain. I'm not going to be modeling for Hawaiian Tropic or anything, but people don't run screaming in the opposite direction when I approach either.

Sometimes I see some rather heavy people in outfits that I wouldn't wear in the house, let alone out in public. Something inside me shouts, "Cover that shit up!" when you see a 200+ lb woman baring her midriff or wearing a mini-skirt. And then another softer side of me thinks, "That's cool, she has such body confidence."

Or maybe she might not own a mirror.
One second thought, by the look of her hair, it is indeed due to lack of a mirror.

In comparison, I look like a runway model.

My friend has a cousin that runs. She doesn't just run, she runs marathons. She thinks it's fun. I find it exhausting just listening to her talk about her running.

I like her. I really do. I admire her. And I admire her commitment.

I used to run. I used to run a lot. Used to. Past tense.
I enjoyed it as well. I was in excellent shape. And then I blew my knee out skiing. I swear it's never quite been the same since. If I run too much, it tweaks my knee and then I'm in pain for a month. I'd rather do something that doesn't aggravate it too much. Why push it? There are other physical activities that I can get involved with that will leave my delicate cartilage at peace.

I saw her at a gathering around October and she had gotten that P90X. It works. Of that I'm sure. If you have the commitment to do it. Which she does. And which I don't.

When I saw her in November, again I ambled into a conversation going on and it was all about P90X. At the Christmas party as I went over to get another cocktail she was standing in the kitchen talking to someone about...guess what? P90X.

I would love to transform my body into a work of art. Muscular art. But I don't have that much time to devote to an extreme workout everyday, nor the time to shower then afterwards. I just don't. I want to...but it's hard enough working in all the things on my calender already.

Now I can almost hear some of you saying, "But you CAN. Just change your schedule."

I wish I could. I've been running behind the eight ball for so long. Squeezing things in here and there. Not enough time for such a rigorous fitness program.
Right now.

Although I do have their website listed as one of my search favorites. Maybe I might just take the 90 day challenge. I did just get that new Victoria's Secret Swim Catalog. I bet there might be something in there I might like. Fact is, I'm sure of it.

I read the other day that Demi Moore does a daily body assessment.
She stands naked in front of a 3 way mirror and looks at her entire body to see what needs to be worked on and what looks good.

Every day.

But her job depends on her looking good. Hell, her job is to look good. She has the time and the energy and the commitment to look like she does. And all the money to back it up as well.

Let's not mention the little hottie husband, Ashton baby, to boot who is a smackdown 16 years her junior. I think if I had to live and sleep with Ashton, I'd make it my priority too to look as damn hot as I could.

My brain has too much respect for my fragile ego to allow me a daily mirror assessment of that intensity. There are some things that should be left unscruntized. I do wish to be able to address the world with some sort of head held high decorum, after all. Demi's ritual might well be the end of Nancy as we know her if introduced into the household itinerary.

I'm not excited about getting older, but yet I'm relatively okay with it. I don't want to destroy my looks like I personally feel Meg Ryan has done. She was adorable. And now she's just...well, like all those other gals getting older and trying desperately to not. Botox, plastic surgery, implants, liposuction. I am bombarded with images of these women not growing old gracefully daily.

I just want to feel good.
About me.

Without the pressure of pleasing anyone but myself.

But how much is that P90X? Because that little black bikini is killer. And 120 is my fightin' weight...

I could so rock that.

Where's my debit card.